Every letter has a story, says Portland artist Susan Russell.Consider “z.” Anyone with a name starting with the letter knows it comes with being last in line. It wasn’t always so. When the Romans conquered the Greeks they not only changed the names of their gods and goddesses, they altered their alphabet.
The letter “z,” once one of the first in the alphabet, was sent into exile for about 400 years, says Russell, who spent a year researching the history of the alphabet and painting each letter. The letter returned when Romans started using it in slang, she says. They tacked it onto the end of the alphabet.
Russell’s series, “ABC Delirious,” has toured Washington state where she taught art and calligraphy for 28 years in public schools and spent a decade as an artist-in-residence. On Sept. 14, she’ll be in her hometown of Colfax for her 50th high school reunion and will talk about how ancient marks evolved into today’s alphabet. The talk is geared for ages 11 and older.
“Kids are so excited to find out where our letters came from,” Russell says about her project, which combines art with the history of civilization.
Russell is known for her colorful works in oil and pastels. Her other subjects include women’s aprons and Palouse landscapes.
Q: Did you always have an interest in art?
A: Yes. When I started high school at Colfax there was no art teacher. Other teachers knew my interest and encouraged me. … I guess I always knew I’d be a teacher. … Kids who I’ve taught always say, “Your room was like a sanctuary where I was not judged on anything else but my art.” It’s a sad thing today with the emphasis on testing in schools, it doesn’t have any creativity. We wonder why kids get out of school and can’t create. We’ve taken it all away from them. Art has a strong influence on creativity.
IF YOU GO
What: Portland artist Susan Russell
Meet the Artist talk, 7 p.m. Sept. 12
Exhibit Monday through Sept. 14, also featuring Colfax native artists Tina Ochs and Larry Curtis
Where: Colfax Library, 102 S. Main St., Colfax